Beta-agonist overuse and delay in obtaining medical review in high risk asthma: a secondary analysis of data from a randomised controlled trial

NPJ Prim Care Respir Med. 2017 May 11;27(1):33. doi: 10.1038/s41533-017-0032-z.


Asthma mortality surveys report delays in seeking medical review and overuse of beta-agonist therapy as factors contributing to a fatal outcome. However, the strength of these associations is limited because many asthma deaths are unwitnessed. We undertook a secondary analysis of data from a 24-week randomised controlled trial of 303 patients with high-risk asthma, randomised to combination budesonide/formoterol inhaler according to a single maintenance and reliever therapy regimen or fixed dose budesonide/formoterol with salbutamol as reliever (Standard) regimen. Medication use was measured by electronic monitors. The thresholds for high, marked and extreme beta-agonist use days were defined in the single maintenance and reliever therapy arm as: >8, >12 and >16 actuations of budesonide/formoterol in excess of four maintenance doses, respectively; and in the Standard arm as: >16, >24 and >32 actuations of salbutamol, respectively. Whether a medical review was obtained within 48 h of an overuse episode was determined by review of data collected during the study by participant report. The mean (standard deviation) proportion of days in which high, marked and extreme beta-agonist overuse occurred without medical review within 48 h was 0·94(0·20), 0·94(0·15) and 0·94(0·17), and 0·92(0·19), 0·90(0·26) and 0·94(0·15) for single maintenance and reliever therapy and Standard regimens, respectively. In at least 90% of days, in which beta-agonist overuse occurred, patients did not obtain medical review within 48 h of beta-agonist overuse, regardless of the magnitude of overuse or the inhaled corticosteroid/long-acting beta-agonist regimen.

Reliever inhaler overuse and delay in medical review in asthma: In asthma, overuse of beta-agonist reliever medication and delay in seeking medical review in an exacerbation are linked to asthma deaths. Janine Pilcher at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, and co-workers, conducted a review of data from a study of 303 adult patients with severe asthma, followed over 24 weeks. The patients were allocated to either a budesonide/formoterol, or a salbutamol inhaler to take for symptom relief, in addition to their maintenance treatment. Inhalers were fitted with electronic monitors, to accurately document every use. In both groups, on 90% of days when an exacerbation requiring excess use of an inhaler occurred, patients did not follow-up with medical professionals within 48 h as advised. Further, in both groups, 'extreme' reliever inhaler use was recorded at least once in around one in four patients.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adult
  • Albuterol / administration & dosage*
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Budesonide, Formoterol Fumarate Drug Combination / administration & dosage*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Prescription Drug Overuse*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Budesonide, Formoterol Fumarate Drug Combination
  • Albuterol